It would be awfully easy to just write “Linebackers-A+” and move on, and I will tell you know, that is where we are going. But, there is also something to be said for looking back through one of the more dominant linebacking performances in recent memory at Linebacker U.
Even before the season kicked off, and really, even before the NCAA dropped the hammer, expectations were sky high for what this group of linebackers could do. Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson returned as starters, and Michael Mauti was slated to return from a knee injury suffered early in the 2011 season. Sophomore Mike Hull had shown flashes of his athleticism as a redshirt freshman the year before. The loss of Khari Fortt to transfer did hurt depth, but guys like redshirt freshman Ben Kline and true freshman Nyeem Wartman were just a couple of reasons to not worry too much.
The three starters were every bit as good as advertised all year, taking advantage of a more aggressive defensive scheme under Ted Roof to showcase their athleticism. There were concerns early on with pass defense, which was exposed by Ohio and Virginia in the early season losses. Mike Hull’s role as something of a third down specialist could be viewed as a big key for PSU, as his athleticism became a stabilizing force in obvious passing situations. Wartman was a force on special teams, including a blocked punt, before suffering an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. He is a candidate for a medical redshirt, having only played 2 games. But the real story, of course, were the 3 starters.
Glenn Carson is the no name of the group, but he quietly amassed 85 tackles. Gerald Hodges racked up 109 tackles (8.5 TFL), 2 INTs and a sack. And then there is #42. I can run through Michael Mauti’s numbers (96 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions), but that is of course just a small fraction of what this young man meant to the 2012 team, and the Penn State program. Three knee injuries, the last of which would keep him off the field on senior day never slowed him down, nor did the storm that he found himself in the middle of, through no fault of his own. I suppose in the end, none of that matters as far as linebacking goes, but the passion he played with all season certainly does.
Looking forward, Hodges and Mauti will graduate and move on, but Glen Carson returns, along with Hull. Rising sophomore Ben Kline will certainly be a favorite to step into the rotation more regularly, as will a healthy Nyeem Wartman. Do not forget about James Van Fleet, who missed this season with a torn ACL suffered in the last practice of the 2012 spring. Incoming freshman Brandon Bell, and Zayd Issah could also be factors. As of now, Jonathan Walton from Alabama is in the mix, but he is scheduled to visit South Carolina, and could ultimately end up staying south. With yesterday’s sudden resignation from Ted Roof, it will be interesting to see how a John Butler defense utilizes this young, but talented group.
From top to bottom, there isn’t much of a weakness I can identify in this group, and it’s the easiest grade I’ve handed out this off season. A+.
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